East Bethel adopts final budget, levy increase

The East Bethel City Council Dec. 4 voted 4-1 to approve the final 2014 budget and then voted unanimously to approve the 2014 tax levy. At a total of $5,126,950, the levy will be 15.1 percent higher than the 2013 levy because the city must start making payments on its bonds for the water and sewer project next year.

Councilmember Heidi Moegerle voted against approving the 2014 budget, objecting because she thinks additional cuts could have been made that would not have been damaging to the city.

Moegerle also made a motion to approve the city’s Economic Development Authority levy of $123,022, but to add back $10,000 that had earlier been cut from the 2014 EDA budget, bringing the EDA levy back to the originally proposed $133,022. That motion failed 3-2, with Moegerle and Mayor Richard Lawrence being the only two councilmembers to vote in favor.

Moegerle and Lawrence have both frequently commented that funding the EDA adequately is necessary in order to attract new businesses to East Bethel and thus help ease the tax burden on city residents.

The council then unanimously voted in favor of a motion by Councilmember Bob DeRoche to approve the 2014 EDA levy with the $10,000 cut. DeRoche and Councilmember Tom Ronning have expressed concerns about whether funding going to the EDA is money well spent during the city’s difficult financial time.

The preliminary 2014 levy approved by the council on Sept. 4 was $5,230,742, which would have been a 17.5 percent increase over the current year’s levy. But after numerous budget meetings and discussions, the city was able to make some reductions.

They include adjustments for staffing changes, $44,600 line-item budget cuts — including the $10,000 cut from the EDA budget – and adjusting insurance costs. The city also added into the budget assessment roll payments for properties in the water and sewer district, a $20,000 allocation from the general fund and savings through refunding the city’s 2005 A bond.

The increase in the 2014 levy is due solely to the city’s debt on the water and sewer project; had this debt not existed, the city’s levy would actually have decreased in 2014.

It was former members of the council who approved the city water and sewer project; current city council members had lobbied to stop the project, but it was already approved by the time they took office in 2011.